Blazer veteran could use a little more help from his teammates
Scottie Pippen turns 38 in September. The Trail Blazer tri-captain is in his 16th NBA season, but that is deceiving. Add 204 playoff games and Portland's veteran point guard has played 2 1/2 extra seasons.
His knee is sore. His plate is full. He has played well much of the time and provided marvelous leadership for the Blazers, but there's only so much he can do.
'If I can pick up my play, I think the team tends to play a lot better,' Pippen said after Portland's 28-point blowout loss to Philadelphia in the Rose Garden last week.
He's right. When Pippen doesn't play well, the Blazers often struggle to win. It shouldn't be that way. He needs more from his two most talented teammates, Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells.
When things are going smoothly and the Blazers are winning, Wallace and Wells are swimming with the tide, knocking down shots, punishing defenders and running things up on the opposition.
When things are going poorly, as they did against Philly, W & W aren't a pretty sight. They spend much of their time griping at the refs (no player has ever gotten away with more in a season than Wallace, who has only seven technicals). All that does is drag down their teammates.
Coach Maurice Cheeks is mostly an enabler, supporting his stars no matter what path they take. It is left to Pippen to try to keep his teammates in line. So far, Wells hasn't spit in his face during an admonishment, but during last week's loss at Phoenix, Wallace answered a Pippen comment with an obscenity as they walked to the Blazer huddle during a timeout.
Pippen doesn't want to call out his teammates Ñ 'I still have to live here,' he says Ñ but Wallace and Wells are trying his patience.
And it's not as if they are in the embryonic stages of their careers. Wallace, 28, is in his eighth NBA season. Wells, 26, is in his fifth. Each should have acquired the subtleties of professionalism by now. That means poise when things aren't going your way. So far, it hasn't happened, and a word from the wise: Don't hold your breath.
Pippen's workload for this team is considerable. He has to play and lead, making sure his teammates play smart. Some suggest he does more coaching than Cheeks.
'I just try to utilize my leadership,' he says with a shrug. 'If that's considered coaching, I probably do a hell of a lot. I have to talk and communicate things, make sure we are all running at the same speed, executing the same things, seeing the same things.'
Ten years ago, Scottie Pippen could have carried these players. At 37, he can only lead and hope his most talented teammates stay cool when the heat is on.
Think Arvydas Sabonis has been underused lately? You're right. In the last six games, the 7-3 Lithuanian has logged 45 minutes, 7.5 per game. His contributions: 6 of 15 from the field, 19 points, 14 rebounds. He didn't play in Portland's victory over Indiana on Saturday at the Rose Garden.
Sabonis has a sore right shoulder, but neither he nor Cheeks say that is why his playing time has been limited. 'I use him sometimes, and sometimes I feel I don't need him,' Cheeks explains.
The veteran center, 38, doesn't seem to care how much or when he plays.
'If I don't play but we win, it's OK,' Sabonis says. 'At my age, I don't think about minutes. If coach needs me, he puts me in. If he does not need me, I have no problem. I want to help as much as possible, but that is coach's decision.'
Maybe Cheeks is keeping Sabonis' minutes down in part as a concession to his age and health, trying to keep him as fresh as possible for the playoffs. That makes some sense, but there is a fine line to that. Sabonis needs more than 7.5 minutes a game for conditioning and to keep his play sharp.
And, really, there aren't many games where the Blazers can't use Sabonis' considerable presence. No matter whom the opponent, let them match up to him. There aren't many who can.
Notes: If it is up to Antonio Daniels, he will remain with the Blazers after this season. Daniels, who came to Portland from San Antonio last summer, is in the final year of his contract. It has not been an easy transition to the Blazers' crowded backcourt. He is averaging 3.9 points and 1.4 assists in 13.6 minutes, battling for reserve time with Damon Stoudamire and Jeff McInnis. Daniels, who turns 28 on March 19, could start for some teams and play more minutes for most, but he would prefer not to play for a third team in three years.
'I have told Maurice I want to be with him again,' Daniels says. 'I don't want to start in a new system, in a new city, again. I enjoy it here, and I have enjoyed playing for (Cheeks). Of course I want more playing time, but that's part of being a competitor. I'm willing to wait my turn.'